Choosing tyres for you and your car
By Andre Lam
Should I choose a tyre based upon my lifestyle?
Whilst traditionally tyre choice has been based on driving style, comfort and cost, increasingly manufacturers have taken tyres into the realm of lifestyle. Whilst this has vague advantages in terms of attracting or informing people who otherwise have little knowledge about tyres, it becomes rather difficult to pinpoint the exact needs of the customer. As they seldom fit the need exactly but as long as they sell tyres does it matter to them?.
Broadly speaking one could categorize lifestyles into sports-focused, family centered, fashion conscious and work related. But this does not mean the family man does not want a sporty tyre or does the fashion conscious know much about the latest low profile tyres.
So what is the best way one should go about choosing tyres?
The tyre choice should be dictated by the car one is driving and driving style. Usually the lifestyle one has, dictates the choice of car and thereby dictates the choice of tyres. For example the sporty driver who chooses a Porsche makes it necessary to fit ultra high performance tyres. The family man who chooses an MPV would need a comfortable passenger type tyre. And those who choose an SUV to suit their sporty lifestyle would have to select and off road tyre or at least one that has better on-road characteristics.
But what if I am a family man but would like to have a sports tyre for my MPV? [pic of MPV with rims]
Yes it is possible to dress up an MPV but within limits. It is not a well known fact that for every inch up you go while maintaining a similar overall tyre diameter as stock, you loose load carrying capacity due to the tyres. Lower profile tyres contain a smaller volume of air and this reduces the load carrying ability. Just a quick look at a 215/60 15 tyre with a load index of 94, the next equivalent up grade is 215/55 16 with a load index of 91. While it is reduced, one can compensate by inflating a couple of pounds higher but luckily most unladen cars are over specified to begin with. However for MPVs there is a real likelyhood of trying to load two families into a single vehicle because finding a car park space on Friday night is nigh impossible. Thankfully it is a short distance in Singapore but should one contemplate that for a journey to KL, it is best to use higher inflation pressures and try not to overload the car.
Can I make a tyre choice based upon my lifestyle?
Whilst lifestyle is an attractive way to classify buyers, it is too vague and does not address individuals’ needs. A better categorization of tyres would be based on how passionate the driver is about his tyres.
Very passionate drivers are knowledgeable about their car craft and have a deep understanding about their tyre choice. They naturally seek the best tyres like those in Level A+ with the sort of performance that suits their needs. Some may want ultimate dry grip, some best wet handling and many want everything including comfort and tread wear but unfortunately there is a matter of expense which is necessarily high in this category. However with unlimited budget one can almost have everything. Even a Formula One tyre has a price tag. It will cost just about $6000 per tyre.
Moderately passionate and informed drivers may not go all the way to get the best ultra-performance tyres. There are a number of high performance tyres that combine comfort with decent performance at a price that doesn’t bust the bank. Most tyres sold to upgraders are in this category. This represents a test step to see if they like the compromises made in order to get the look they want. If they feel they have sacrificed enough comfort they can stay in this category and not go all the way. If they find this upgrade insufficient to sate their desire for performance, they can go up to the top rung of tyres.
Budget constrained but passionate drivers are plentiful and we have been there one time or another. Beer budget and champagne taste. Well if you have blown the entire budget on the WRX or EVO it would be a travesty not to shod them with appropriate tyres. But if you have a decent family car and interested in getting the best tyre to suit your pocket, you should follow our tyre tests closely. There are a handful of tyres that with some compromise deliver the goods at a reasonable price. Some may have a lower speed rating, usually HR or VR, some may be noisy or have poor wet performance.
Uninformed and disinterested can be a dangerous lot if ill informed but quite often they have the budget to buy decent tyres. Choosing name brands is the safest choice for the uninformed and by and large if from a reputable manufacturer, even the budget, entry-level tyres are decent enough. Also many depend on their tyre dealer to provide them recommendations. Hopefully the dealer is a decent chap but there are many horror tales about the dealer from hell who can sell the “blur” lady driver an entirely new set of duff tyres just because one of her tyres had a slow leak. Occasionally for the price that would have got her a set that would do justice to your WRX. We usually hear these tales from the poor suffering husband who now doesn’t know what to do with the lousy tyres. Moral? When unsure, buy reputable brands or call your husband.
El cheapo and couldn’t care less types are fairly common and surprisingly they have some inkling about tyres but they believe that cheapest is best. To them these black round rim protectors are all the same. And since they have always been using the products from the fourth world they wouldn’t know better anyway. As if to validate his thinking some manufacturers actually cater to this market and sell cheap tyres. He is the one you will hate to have right behind you on a rainy day and he thinks ultra performance tyres is yet another way manufacturers milk us. It is remarkable that since we enjoy some of the cheapest tyre prices in the world today that there are people who think the $50 saving is worth more than the life they could possibly save. They might think differently if they ever realize the life they could be saving is their own. This is very sad.
I am thinking of getting a nice set of rims for my car, what tyres should I consider?
Curiously enough this is the number one reason why people buy ultra low profile tyres in the first place, to dress the car up and not usually the other way round. Still within reasonable limits this encourages a useful upgrade albeit for the wrong reasons. When you say nice rims we assume it will be either an inch up or two. If it is just to doll the car up then perhaps there is no reason to go all the way to the top tyres. Tyres in Level A will do nicely and there is a considerable range to choose from. If you are an aggressive driver it may be good to consider tyres a grade better in Level A+. For those who are not so inclined can pick something comfortable. Most of these tyres optimise the tyre’s braking performance as it is easier to do at that price level and just as well because the most important duty of any tyre is that it must be able to stop well even if it sacrifices cornering grip in the process.
I have no intention to change rims from the standard ones that came with the car how can I get better performance?
A fair number do not want to deal with the variables of upsizing wheels and deal with offsets and such. If one likes how his car is feeling then it is logical that either the same tyres or a better set of tyres be chosen. Some cars are sensitive to small changes to its wheels resulting in a steering shimmy that cannot be eliminated by either static or dynamic balancing. Going back to the standard or original rims usually solves this problem. By carefully choosing a tyre, one can possibly get better performance unless you are driving a sports model like the 911 or M3 where the tyre selection has already been made by the chassis engineer for that car. It is then reasonable that the suspension is tuned only for those tyres alone and swapping them is done at your own peril. However it is worth mentioning that the way manufacturers do business leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to tendering for the tyre contract. Most often it is the lowest price bid from a reputable manufacturer that clinches the deal. Thus finding a better tyre isn’t going to be too difficult.
When is it time to change my tyres? [pic of bald tyre, pic of tread wear indicator with numbers]
Some wait till they see the carcass or steel bands. He should horse-whipped and jailed. The legal limit is the absolute limit that should be recommended and is about 3mm or when the tread blocks reach the tread wear indicators. Tyres should really be changed a lot earlier than that. A good gauge is wet weather performance, when it begins to deteriorate i.e. more wheelspin, brakes lock-up easily it is already getting time. One never knows when he will be needing all the grip he can get to avoid an accident. What price the safety of you and your family? Typically a half worn tyre will add nearly 10% to the stopping distance. This will work out to another 3m for a stop from 80 km/h that would take just 32m. However the dry performance seems to be unaffected and this is perhaps what lulls drivers into a sense of false security as the tyres seem ok in the dry.
How do I choose a tyre for an upgrade? Plus 1”, plus 2”, plus 3”
Choosing bigger wheels and tyres is more a function of looks rather than sheer performance. One can get near-race tyre-like performance in a 14 inch size that would whip today’s 18 inch tyres. What concerns most upgraders is how wide and how low can they afford to upgrade to. Admittedly it is not cheap to go plus one or two sizes up.
First of all, the choice of an upgrade is usually driven by the attraction of smart looking rims, not good looking tyres. Today 17 inch is a common size and 18 inch getting increasingly popular. However there are limits as 18 inch wheels are not usually fitted to the typical Japanese car because the original tyre size is only slightly taller than the naked 18-inch rim. Mounting 35 or 40 series tyres is very difficult as there is no sidewall flex to help. Also with just a thin sliver of tyre to cushion road shocks is like going back to solid rubber tyres.
Follow the Plus One or Plus Two principle where the overall height or rolling circumference of the tyre does not change along with a change of rim size. Most tyre fitting outfits have an equivalency chart, which they can consult and advise you on your choice.
If you can afford it please pick a reputable brand and consult our tyre round up.
60 Series: Comfortable, usually OE tyres, performance compromised for good ride comfort.
55 Series: Still reasonably comfortable, not a common size, Some performance gain
50 Series: Moving into Ultra High Performance arena, Significant rise in grip, stability, excellent profile to upgrade to. Ride comfort takes a dip.
45 Series: Very much performance orientated, Great grip, very stable, usually hard riding
35/40 Series: As 45 Series but with much harder ride.
Any cautionary advice to aspiring upgraders?
Upgrading is certainly an enticing prospect but it is prudent to obey the laws of the land and more importantly the laws of Physics. Although you may be able to evade the long arm of the law but you may have to face the rather harsher punishment should you attempt to defy gravity. Performance tyres should be seen as adding a bigger margin of safety rather than to utilise all that extra performance. Remember increased grip does not translate into better handling. With more grip comes more speeds and bear that in mind because if anything untoward should happen the car will be skidding off at a far higher speed and with rather dire consequences. This is because the kinetic energy contained in the skidding car rises in proportion with the square of its velocity.
Oftentimes the levels of grip that can be provided with high performance tyres is beyond the original design limits of the car. Slapping on a set of 17 inch wheels with 45 series tyres does not make an Impreza an STi. The STi’s suspension is a carefully considered system with much finer tolerances and fewer geometry compromises since comfort is hardly in the equation unlike the stock Impreza’s. Ditto to all the Civics trying to be Type Rs. A proper suspension upgrade is advised if you want to use profiles lower than 50 series.
Also the mere fact you can fit a set of cool looking wheels and tyres does not make you a race driver. It will definitely stand you in good stead if you attend some of the advanced driving courses being conducted. It will teach you besides the requisite skills, some dedication and discipline. Do not tempt fate by racing on our streets, the life you save may be yours.